• A Tale of Two Typewriters


    Deep into last year’s lockdown I started writing a new novel, and a large part the novel revolves around a typewriter. Not just any typewriter, but a very specific typewriter: A Royal “Gray Magic” Quiet Deluxe, the favorite of both Ernest Hemingway and James Bond author Ian Fleming.

    So, for research, I decided I need to try and find one, and as luck would have it I was able to find a pristine specimen on eBay.

    And what a specimen! This machine is a perfect example of how companies used to build products to last and last. This typewriter is over 70 years old and still works perfectly. It’s as solid as the proverbial tank.

    But why a typewriter? What the hell?

    This is why: it’s basically a character in my newest novel. Or, for those familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s terminology, it’s the “McGuffin” for the story.

    Not to be confused with a “McMuffin” which is what my word processor’s spell checker keeps trying to change it to.

    The fantasy, set in 1982, features a protagonist who is a typewriter repairman, and is fated to fulfill a part in the gods’ plan to fix a problem created years before.

    Let me just leave it at that.

    But, if I’m going to write about a Royal Quiet Deluxe, I need one in my hands. I need to know what it feels like, how heavy it is, what all the parts do, how to change the ribbon, how to set the margins, etc. So, in my mind at least, I needed the genuine article in my possession for the sake of the story.

    But that purchase sent me going further down the nostalgia rabbit hole. You see, way before word processors I used to write on typewriters, and for the longest time I used the venerable old IBM Selectric. But even before that I had the typewriter my parents gave me for my 12th birthday, way back when I had first announced to them that I was going to be a novelist. And that was…

    I thought, hey, if I can buy the Royal Quiet Deluxe, just for fun I should see if I could get my old original typewriter as well. Not the exact one, mind you, but one exactly like it. The actual make, model, year, and even banana yellow color. However, this turns out to be a rather rare typewriter, probably because it didn’t hold up that well.

    Because, you know … plastic.

    My search turned up nothing, but at the very least I did set up an automatic search on eBay, just in case one ever did turn up. And didn’t cost an arm and leg.

    About three COVID-19 seclusion weeks trundled past, and suddenly I get this pop up message on my phone from the eBay app. “Hey, we found your typewriter.” (It didn’t say that, exactly, but that was the gist of the message.)

    I looked at it. Amazed. It was exactly like my original typewriter. It was in pristine condition. And it did not cost an arm and a leg.

    Boom. Sold. Bought it on the spot. (eBay is dangerous that way.)

    It even has the stickers that I remember. It’s so much like the original that I sometimes wonder if fate somehow handed me my actual original.

    This is a pure nostalgia purchase. I made sure it works (to my surprise it types nicer than the Royal Quiet Deluxe), but UPS was not kind to it during shipping, and I had to gingerly piece parts of it back together. Still, it works, and it’s mine, and now it sits next to the replica of my original Canon FTb camera.

    So, guess what I did? I wrote it into the story as well. After all, the protagonist is a typewriter repairman, so why wouldn’t he have a Montgomery Ward Escort 55 typewriter sitting on his workbench?

    As a bonus, that makes both of them a tax write off as well.

    Anyway, this new novel was finished earlier this year, sent off to my editor, and now, just this week, it’s published and available. I got my author’s copies yesterday.

    Just in case anyone is curious, here’s a link: Typewriter Repairman